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Kemo’s actions violated trust

There’s nothing wrong with buying expensive clothes.

There’s nothing wrong with booking stays in hotels.

There’s nothing wrong with a bonus for work well done.

There’s nothing wrong with taking flying lessons.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those items — as long as you are able to pay for them with your own money.

Monsignor Kurt Kemo, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Steubenville, was reminded of that in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Wednesday, when he admitted to diverting nearly $300,000 in diocesan funds for his own use, including the things mentioned above.

And, while stealing from his employer was bad enough, the money Kemo helped to divert had been donated to the church in good faith by its parishioners, including funds intended for various projects in the diocese and for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, an organization that serves missionaries and the poorest of the poor around the world. It also led to others who depended on the diocese for employment to lose their jobs and to austerity measures to be implemented.

Kemo, who served as the longtime pastor of the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of Lourdes parishes in Wintersville, pleaded guilty to a bill of information charging him with two counts of aggravated theft without consent, two counts of theft by deception, receiving stolen property and falsifying financial records.

And, while he was able to reimburse the diocese the $289,000 he had diverted, Kemo will have to spend six months at the Eastern Ohio Correction Center, plus two years of community control on each count. During her sentencing, Judge Michelle Miller mentioned Kemo’s battle with alcoholism, as well as Assistant Prosecutor Frank Bruzzese’s criticism of the lack of oversight from by the diocese for her decisions.

Kemo’s sentencing comes two months after David Franklin, the former comptroller of the diocese, pleaded guilty to paying himself and a select group of employees — including Kemo — unauthorized bonuses, as well as working with Kemo to falsify records and conceal the true financial condition of the diocese. Franklin was sentenced to 18 months in state prison, with the first year spent in federal custody for failing to account for and pay employment tax, wire fraud and filing a false income tax return. He also was ordered to pay $532,115 in restitution.

Bruzzese said Franklin held a “significant amount of influence over Kemo” and may have taken advantage of him while creating a slush fund — an account at Chase Bank that diocesan officials believed to have been closed in 2010 when funds were moved to PNC Bank.

Sadly, the sentencing of Kemo likely will not be the final chapter in the problems surrounding the diocese.

As part of his agreement, Kemo agreed to help prosecutors identify others who might have defrauded the diocese and, if necessary, testify against them.

Bishop Jeffrey Monforton and the diocese already have taken steps to ensure greater oversight of the funds in the future. Those include yearly independent audits, use of a third-party payroll system, the requirement of two signatures — one of which must be the bishop’s — on every check issued by the diocese and an entirely new set of employees in the finance office.

Monforton has not backed away from the issues surrounding the missing money, and has demonstrated great transparency while working with the authorities and in answering questions. He also knows there is much work left to be done, admitting in the victim’s impact statement he read Wednesday on behalf of the diocese, “We are all too aware it is easy and relatively quick to lose one’s trust, but the arduous and longer road is in the work to regain that very same trust.”

While that process will take time, it is needed for Catholics in the 13 counties of Southeastern Ohio that make up the diocese to be assured that money they — and others — give to support the work of the church will be used for just that purpose — and not go toward supporting extravagant lifestyles of those in whom they have placed their faith.

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